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With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

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Investing In Open Source

Does your company use open source software? Do they contribute to it in any way? If not, perhaps you should follow the Brazilian government's lead.

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Last week I was a speaker at FISL, one of the world's largest software freedom conferences, held in the far south of Brazil (where it's winter and cold, just in case you were concerned I had too much fun!)

In addition to two other talks, I had the opportunity to speak as the co-presenter in a session about the evolution of OpenOffice.org. The growth of the developer community for that codebase was always stifled, and while there are some excellent and experienced developers on working on it, very few have affiliations beyond Sun/Oracle. Following Oracle's decision to withdraw, the maintenance of the code is moving on from corporate sponsorship to community management under the auspices of The Document Foundation and the Apache Software Foundation.

Two Offices

The Document Foundation (TDF) has already been working for around 9 months and are already actively maintaining and releasing new versions of LibreOffice, the continuation of the original OpenOffice.org project. Their work is good and I've been using LibreOffice for all my presentations and documents for about six months with no problems.

Meanwhile, the Apache Software Foundation are expecting to have the OpenOffice.org trademarks donated to them and are in the process of planning for the delivery of relicensed source code from Oracle. All this work is progressing in an "incubator podling", Apache's way of handling proposed projects. While it will probably be many months before we see any software released by the project, eventually there will also be downloadable office productivity software from them as well. 

The problem both projects are likely to face is that, while there are plenty of volunteers wanting to help, few of them are actually developers in a position to replace the skilled and senior developers Oracle will no longer be employing. This will prove to be the biggest issue in “rebooting” development, and I believe the overall OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice community needs to set aside differences to address it.

Brazil Invests

During the meeting in Brazil, I called for developers to start work on the code-base now, regardless of their eventual expectations of which of the two open source projects they will join, so that their skills and their familiarity with the code are developed. Change in the codebase is inevitable, but skills and familiarity gained today will remain valuable. This uniting message was well received by the audience.

Also during the presentation, Jomar Silva ( a key voice in the document standards community) announced that he had just met with representatives of the Brazilian government and representatives of both the Apache (Jomar Silva) and TDF (Olivier Hallot) communities had signed a letter of intent with the government that Brazil should start engaging directly with the office suite they depend on, rather than just consuming the code.

This growth in the developer base seems to me to be exactly the sort of news we all need at the moment, and I’m looking forward to hearing from Olivier and Jomar as the first developers are identified and start work on the LibreOffice Easy Hacks. But it raises a wider question.

And you?

What are you doing to ensure the continuity of the open source software upon which your business depends? I am not a fan of the "moral pressure" stance some software freedom advocates take, trying to shame people into involvement. The whole point of software freedom is that you are free to use the software for any purpose, without any conditions. Implying it's morally wrong to do that without a contribution is misguided in the extreme.

But the truth is, if you're not investing in the open source software upon which your business depends, your strategy is probably flawed. Open source software may come without a price ticket for the license, but its chief value is the freedom it delivers. If you're not paying some other company for a subscription, you should consider asking your own developers to explore ways to contribute. It may be in advocacy, in bug reporting, in documentation or in actual code development, but whatever approach you take, your continued software freedom may depend on your investment.


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